Monday, February 28, 2011

The Facebook Effect

To sum up the following story, I never dreamed it would be a real-world, in-person interaction that would get me defriended online. Oh what a brave new world we weave.

Back in '06 I dated a guy for like 2 months. It wasn't a big deal, I mean, we really liked each other but I was moving. We went to Darien Lake for a day, made root beer floats, played video games, cooked dinners, watched marathons of Sports Night (my favorite) and Aqua Teen Hunger Force (his favorite), made our own matching t-shirts referencing inside jokes... basically all the things you do when you know you don't have much time. We even made each other sappy mixtapes with songs about our ill-timed romance. Of course, in an extraordinarily stupid move, we never *officially* broke up before I moved to New York. Many way-too-long phone calls ensued, but neither of us really wanted to do long distance. I had been down that road several times, and it was a miserable one. If this was a romantic comedy, he would surprise me by showing up at my door. But instead we had the inevitable dramatic night where I cried on the phone as we called the whole thing off. Ah, the pains of love.

Of course, a week later he changed his MySpace profile song (remember those?) from Nickel Creek's "This Side" to... wait for it... "A Little Less 16 Candles, A Little More Touch Me" by Fall Out Boy, and started sleeping with one of the students he was a TA for. But whatever. Bygones.

That was about it. I mean, we were friends on Facebook, and he sporadically initiated IM conversations a few times so we could catch up. He got married a little while ago (not to his student), and I left a congrats message on his Facebook wall. There hasn't been any animosity, I thought it was a friendly breakup.

I had forgotten that he is in one of the Ph.D. programs I applied to, in his final year. There really aren't that many to choose from, this was one of the best, and we have similar research interests, so it wasn't surprising. I was invited by the school to come to an open house which included a panel discussion Thursday night -- he was listed as a panelist. I checked his Facebook page, and indeed, it looked like he was the person on the docket. I was kind of looking forward to it, I mean, it's been years, and I thought it would be nice to see a familiar face, even if he would have graduated by the time I got there. This picture of me shrugging illustrates my attitude about the situation (sorry for the shadow of my hand, this is not a high-tech operation):

When the panel discussion ended, I went to talk to him, and awkwardness ensued. He was standing with his wife, and he said, "hello nice to see you again," as if we had met each other just once through a mutual friend. It was clear to me his wife had no idea we had dated or even knew each other, which was fine with me, it was not really newsworthy. I tried carrying on a conversation but it was almost physically painful, I was getting nothing in return. I ended up awkwardly walking away to eat cookies. Something like this:

As fate would have it, the school assigned us to the same dinner table the next night. Presumably they thought we might have something in common. Little did they know how much. It was awkward again, all he said was an awkward "hey"... so I busied myself talking to others. As he was rounding the table with goodbyes, he said, once again, "nice to see you again." And that was it. I thought it was all very bizarre and uncomfortable, to be honest. I left wishing I hadn't seen him at all, but knowing I made a valiant effort toward normalcy.

But then, the most awkward thing of all happened. I went to check his Facebook page the next day, with thoughts of maybe just leaving a 'nice to see you again, great job on the panel,' type of comment, just to try to resolve the awkwardness (I hate awkwardness, it seriously keeps me up at night, when it happens I HAVE to resolve it)... and get this. He was no longer on my list of friends. I searched for his profile, and there was the dreaded button:


Add as friend?! What the hell? When did this motherf*cker DEFRIEND me? We were Facebook friends the day before I came to the school. So he went home from the panel discussion and immediately defriended me? Or after dinner? I mean was that absolutely necessary? It's not like I really am jonesing to be "friends" with this person on Facebook, we have our own separate lives, we may never see each other again (here's hoping we don't, after that awkwardness). But he didn't defriend me after we broke up, and he did defriend me now. There was something that felt just really... aggressive... in that, and I couldn't figure out why it was bothering me so much.

Then it dawned on me -- it's the REVERSE of what I thought would ever happen. I picture myself really irritating people online, warranting a severing of the online relationship, but maybe I would see them again in person and they wouldn't mind me. I think I'm more likeable -- or at least more neutral and non-bothersome -- in person than I probably am online. I'm really a rather quiet person, I try not to irritate anyone too much and just to make things as non-confrontational and non-awkward as possible. I couldn't believe that an in-person interaction with me that lasted about 5 minutes could make a person go directly home and intentionally erase every trace of me from their life by deleting the last remaining online record of association with my existence. It hurt my feelings because it seemed like an affront to my actual being rather than the shadow of myself that I had curated online.

To this moment, I still don't understand why he did it. I'm trying not to dwell on it, exes are exes, Facebook is stupid, it really has no impact on my day-to-day life whatsoever. But I have to say, I feel like I've been broken up with all over again. And after all of this, there is only one person I can possibly think of to blame for this tumult. Only one person who can possibly be held responsible for this awkward, unsettling unfolding of events. Not two people. Not even three people. Just one. And it's so obvious that I bet you can guess who the culprit is. Okay, I'll say it. Mark Zuckerberg. F*cking douchebag.

"Look at it out here, it's all falling apart. I'm erasing you and I'm happy! By morning, you'll be gone." (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind)

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

No mom, our house is NOT Grand Central Station

Back in the day when I was a kid, before all this crazy technology came about, after-school activities in my suburban neighborhood were much different than I'm pretty sure they are today. Instead of broodily sitting in a corner wearing headphones, texting and updating my Facebook page, I was floating about the neighborhood, playing tag, riding bikes, swinging on swings, throwing balls, scraping my knees, refusing candy from strangers, and self-surgically removing splinters and gravel from various appendages. And kids used to invite each other over to play the old-fashioned way: 1) Calling on the family's single mustard-colored rotary landline phone which was mounted on the wall and had 18 miles of spiral cord all twisted up in a huge ball in front of it as a barricade (you had to REALLY need to use that thing to fight that pile of cord), or 2) Showing up on the stoop, throwing down their bike without even using the kickstand, and (gasp) ringing the doorbell.
Of course that also meant people frequently showed up at my door and called on the phone. By about the second phone call/doorbell ring in, my mother would start saying:

"What is this, Grand Central Station?!"

And somehow, this phrase took on a life of its own. "What is this, Grand Central Station?" became by far the most common phrase in our household, and sooner or later, she used it to really describe anything. If we left clothes lying around. If we had a friend over and we were running out to the backyard. If we were playing with our cousins and making too much noise. If we left food out on the counter. If we left our backpacks at the table. If we left the house and had to come back because we forgot something. Pretty much anything warranted a "What is this, Grand Central Station?!"

Oh, mom.

Look, I've been to Grand Central Station. Mom had NO idea how great she had it. My sister and I dancing around on the floor in our socks? Playing slip-and-slide and tracking in a few blades of grass? Leaving some Legos or a book on the floor? None of this resembles Grand Central Station in any way, shape or form. Believe you me.

Grand Central Station is easily one of the worst places in NYC, behind only Times Square, the Empire State Building, and the 6 train at rush hour. The only way that you could feasibly compare any event or experience in my childhood home to Grand Central Station would be if at some point in my youth I had invited over:
  • About 8,000 rats and 140,000 cockroaches
  • A bunch of "Jews for Jesus" who were chasing my mom around holding clipboards and trying to enlist her
  • A creepy old man who was "playing" the recorder at screech-level volume with horrible muzak accompaniment playing on a boombox in the background
  • A person who sells pins
  • Someone with a card table, a zillion brochures, a cooler, and 5 or 6 ominous posters which say that the rapture is approaching on May such and such 2011 and ask my mother if she is prepared to be judged
  • A group of rapping breakdancers who perform the same exact show over and over again in our kitchen for cash
  • A group of people who take out all my mom's pots and pans and then "play" them, for cash
  • A drummer
  • 500 homeless people who lay around our house
  • 1000 vendors who glare suspiciously at my mom every time she touches anything in our kitchen
  • A man who takes off his hat and announces, "Ladies and gentleman, may I have just a few moments of your time," proceeding to follow my mom around the house, tell her why he's destitute, and ask her for money -- anything she can give would be appreciated
  • A woman and her small child (wearing brand new Nikes, I should mention) who sit in our hallway with a sign and a cup and ask my mom for money every time she walks by "please to help feed child"
  • 1 MTA employee who hides somewhere in our house and no matter how many times she's found she is still "on break"
  • 2000 cops with guns who don't even notice she's there
  • A crew filming a commercial in the middle of our house, forcing my mother to have to GO OUTSIDE in order to cross from the kitchen to the living room
  • A flash mob
  • A zillion angry New Yorkers with backpacks and briefcases and suitcases and iPhones running around our house, bumping into my mother every way she turns, and then knocking her down onto the ground while muttering "I hate this f*cking city" or while screaming "Get the hell out of the way!!!!!!! F*cking tourists."
All I'm saying is, my house was really nothing like Grand Central Station, and I think in the future all mothers should really think twice before using that expression. Because it could have been a LOT worse. We barely even made a sound. We didn't even ask her for money. And we only used the pots and pans to cook. I really don't know what my mom was thinking. Man did she have it good.

F*cking tourist.